The suspension of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program could have a calamitous effect on small businesses in the mining towns of Labrador City and Wabush, warns Advanced Education and Skills Minister Kevin O'Brien.
"They just can't get the workers," O'Brien said in a feature interview with On Point.
"If we don't get this solved pretty quickly, we're going to have businesses close down in Lab West."
O'Brien's comments echo concerns from local business leaders, who say there is a stark shortage of local workers available for service-economy jobs, because of activity at industrial employers.
The federal government suspended the program amid revelations that some employers were abusing it, including by ignoring Canadian applicants in favour of foreign workers.
Ottawa also suspended the licence of a numbered company that operated several fast-food restaurants in Labrador, including one that had been the focus of a CBC Investigates report this winter about allegations two dozen workers were housed in a single Labrador City home.
However, O'Brien said the overall program has great merit and should be reinstated as soon as possible, and that decent employers are being punished because of the actions of others.
"He's actually killed an ant with a sledgehammer," O'Brien said of federal Employment Minister Jason Kenney, who is expected to soon unveil new rules for temporary foreign workers.
"It's really, really important to us that we have [the program]," said O'Brien, who added that the government is welcoming workers from other countries who choose to stay and pursue Canadian citizenship.
"To see somebody come in and really avail of the opportunity that we have in our province, and then become a Canadian, just like me and you, is a great thing."
Click the video above to watch the full episode of On Point, with guest host Peter Cowan.